Longterm Symptoms of Torn ACL

Injuries prevent us from living life. Some injuries keep us from being as active as we’d like to be. But some injuries make even moving difficult—for example, an injury to the ACL. If you have a tear in your ACL, you’ll likely feel pain any time you shift your body. It’s no secret that our knees help carry the weight of our entire body. We use our knees to stand and walk. But we also use them to ease ourselves into a sitting position. The pain of a torn ACL can even keep us from getting enough sleep. Bearing these considerations in mind, let’s discuss some long-term symptoms of an ACL tear. Moreover, we shall go over what to do about it. 

What is the ACL? 

ACL stands for the anterior cruciate ligament. To help break down these anatomical terms, remember that a ligament connects a bone to a bone. The ACL connects the top of your leg (femur) to the lower part (tibia). Or, think of your thigh bone and your shin bone. 

The ACL lies underneath your kneecap and intersects with the posterior cruciate ligament. This is where the “cruciate” in its name comes from. These two ligaments help balance one another and form an “X.” And “anterior” means that the ACL is closer to the front of the body. 

What Does the ACL Do? 

Every part of the body acts to keep things in balance. Your ACL is one of four ligaments in your knee. The other three are: 

  • Posterior cruciate ligament (mentioned above)
  • Lateral collateral ligament (located on the outside of the knee)
  • Medial collateral ligament (located on the inside of the knee) 

Each of these ligaments and the patellar tendon (attached to the bottom of the kneecap) helps stabilize the knee, keep it balanced, and protect it from shock. 

The ACL has two primary roles

  • Impeding the knee from going too far forward 
  • Keeping the knee from rotating too much

A Brief Guide to ACL Tears 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the ACL is among the most commonly torn ligaments in the knee. It may occur as many as 200,000 times a year. Doctors estimate that people under 20 are most likely to injure an ACL. Typically, the ligament is torn via a twisting motion wherein the foot moves in one direction and the knee moves in the opposite. It may also happen when jumping and landing in an awkward position.

If you are an athlete, the sports most likely to contribute to an ACL tear are: 

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Skiing
  • Football
  • Lacrosse 

Short-Term Symptoms 

At the time of the injury, you might hear a popping sound in your knee. You will likely feel pain. Your knee will become inflamed, and you will observe swelling. Walking will prove difficult and uncomfortable. You will also need help finding your balance when standing. 

Long-Term Symptoms of an ACL Tear 

One quick caveat: always speak with your doctor before seeking treatment for an ACL tear. The knee is a complex joint, and injuries are highly unique. 

The most common long-term symptoms of a torn ACL are instability in the knee joint and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when our joints wear down over time. One study noted that about half of those with torn ACL will experience osteoarthritis. This often happens even 10-20 years after the original ACL injury. 

What About Surgery? 

Surgery can help a torn ACL in some circumstances, but it is not always the answer. Reconstructive surgery can indeed repair a torn ACL. However, even after surgery, the cartilage around the site of the injury can deteriorate. Plus, there is no guarantee that a single surgery will fix the problem. Patients who receive surgery to repair a torn ACL sometimes require more surgeries. And there’s no guarantee that a previously torn ACL won’t tear again. The ACL might be weaker after surgical repair because of the injury. An orthopedic surgeon can help you determine whether surgery or another option is right for you. 

Long term symptoms of ACL tear (without surgery)What Should I Do if I Tear My ACL? 

A torn ACL is not a life-threatening emergency. Nonetheless, follow up with your doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep the acronym RICE in mind. 

  • Rest: give the knee a break by getting off of it 
  • Ice: place an icepack on the inflamed knee
  • Compression: use a compression bandage or sleeve to apply pressure
  • Elevation: prop the injured foot up 

What If I Still Need Help? 

At OrthoSouth, we can assist you in finding the particular specialist you need, who will listen to your unique situation to help you decide your best course of action. Visit us here to schedule an appointment today!